SWAT 3: Close Quarters Battle Review
By Daniel Kershaw |
Sierra has been on a roll the past few months. First we were blessed with Homeworld, then Pharaoh let us live like Egyptian Kings, and now SWAT 3: Close Quarters Battle proves that being the good guys doesn't have to be boring.
When you start up SWAT 3 you're presented with a simple and clean front interface with only four options: Mission (where you can play any of the 16 scenarios in order), New Career (play the missions in order and keep running stats of your progress), Restore Career (load game), and Over & Out (exit game). While it may seem watered down, instead what this menu system does is get you right into the meat of the game. All other options -- like setting your graphical preferences, controls, etc. -- are further into the game after you create your persona and get to the map screen. I was impressed with how easy SWAT 3 was to navigate, how sharp and clean the menus were, and how quickly I was able to get into the game and start playing. Not only did the design team do a great job of portraying a lot of information in an effective manner, but they also made it so you never spent too much time messing around in the menu system waiting to get into the game.
When you do jump into a mission, you're presented with a wonderfully-acted, fully voiced briefing that informs you about the situation at hand. The recording quality is superb, and each briefing is really important. In addition to the audio cues, you can also look through floorplans, suspect records, and other tidbits of hinkfo. Unlike other realistic shooters like Rogue Spear, you don't actually plan routes before you enter a hot spot, instead playing it by ear and issuing commands to your team dynamically.
All of the missions take place in extremely realistic environments in Los Angeles, everything from a Russian Orthodox Cathedral to the sewers to the Air Traffic Control Tower at LAX. There's even one mission which takes place at the LA Convention Center, and, while it wasn't the exact layout, I recognized notable structural aspects (like the glass Atrium for instance) from when we were at E3 in May. Overall, all of the environments are extremely well designed and look great too. You actually feel like you're in realistic buildings because of the care taken in level design.
Of course, as a member of the Los Angeles SWAT team, you're not endowed with an arsenal as diverse as a military unit, but you do have a choice of three excellent rifles that you can use to help you get your point across. There's the H&K MP5 (in both suppressed and non-suppressed versions), the M4A1, and the Benelli 12-gauge tactical shotgun. Each feels like it's real-life counterpart. The M4A1 feels more powerful and is a steadier shot, while the MP5 feels lighter and has a faster shot rate. All of the guns sound like their real-life cousins as well, with the M4A1 being deeper and louder than the MP5. The audio team did a great job with SWAT 3 overall, and everything from the voices to the sound effects to the environmental reverbs sound perfect.
Another thing that the team at Sierra did a great job with was the projectile physics. Bullet penetration is portrayed better than any shooter to date. Shoot through glass or a wooden door and your bullets will keep on going. Shoot at a steel door and you'll see sparks and hear the distinctive *ping* as your bullets ricochet. These realistic ballistics and physics makes it much easier to neutralize someone who is ignoring your commands and shooting wildly at you from around a corner. If he's behind a plaster wall, simply turn to face him and unload your clip. While it seems like an pretty self-evident concept, it's not something that's been in shooters until recently, and no one has gotten it as right as the SWAT 3 team. From now on, this will be the game by which all other realistic shooters are judged when it comes to ballistics.
In addition to realistic SWAT weapons, your team of officers use real SWAT tactics. Since you are part of the police force, your duty is to serve and protect. In SWAT 3 terms, this means rescuing hostages, arresting threats, and keeping the killing down to a minimum. Yes, a mission where no shots fired at all, all hostages are freed, and all terrorists are subdued is the ultimate goal. But don't worry, you'll find plenty of action in the game, and you can't help but squeeze off a few rounds (or a few hundred if you're like me) each mission.
Effective communication is the key to this game. I'd say that it's more important to keep good contact in SWAT 3 than Rogue Spear because not everyone that is armed is a direct threat, and you have to be careful how you direct your element. Unfortunately the manual does a poor job of outlining the communication commands that are so important to the game, and contains vague statements like "The second tier of the message menu consists of a second set of menu options, with numbers to the left and words to the right." Well, duh. How about telling me what all of the commands do, folks? Throw me a bone here, people. It's a major oversight and is confusing at first, but you'll pick up the commands soon enough
Overall the AI is very good, both friendly and enemy. Your element members will head for cover and take control of hostile situations, while terrorists will hide behind hostages to avoid the onslaught of officers. I only had one major problem with the AI. Occasionally the members of your element will walk right into your line of fire while you're shooting at an enemy. This is bad. This is real bad. Bullets hurt, kids, and your team member will fall to the ground while the other officers fill you with lead because they think you're a traitor. You know what? I bet not walking in the line of friendly fire is one of the first things they teach you at SWAT school.
While overall your team's AI is pretty solid, there are times when it's just easier to clean out a level lone wolf style so you don't lose any of your team members to trigger happy terrorists. They do get shot sometimes, and you can't always keep your eyes on them. Of course, my team did a better job of subduing foes than I. I found it easier just to shoot 'em in the head if they didn't drop their gun after my first warning, so my proper use of deadly force rating was always rather low, although my mission success rate was right up there. Hey, you can't take any chances when dealing with international terrorists, right?
Albeit some slight AI problems and a lacking manual, there's not much that SWAT 3 is missing -- except for multiplay support. This game screams for multiplay, especially co-operative play. This would have added almost infinite replayability to the game, but the single player game stands up really well on its own. Although the maps stay the same, almost every mission is different because the enemies and hostages are randomly placed throughout the environment. This does give SWAT 3 a lot of replay value, but not as much as if you could hook-up with your buddies and team up. Oh, and for your information, I did confirm today that the kids over at Sierra are still planning on adding multiplayer support for SWAT 3 sometime this spring, so we'll just have to dust off the CD again in a few months.
All in all I was very impressed with SWAT 3. It's by far the best of the up until now lacking SWAT series, and it would rank right up there with Rogue Spear if it had multiplay out of the box. The game does a fantastic job of creating a realistic feeling atmosphere while immersing you in high-intensity situations. Sure, it's simplified in terms of what a real SWAT team does, but it's a fun and addictive game that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to anyone who's old enough to handle the mature content.
-- Tal Blevins